Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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A Christmas message to European bookshops

Dearest bookshops of Europe,

This time last year I was sitting on the train in the dark en route to the cosiest place in London. I feel the only way I survived the SADs in Europe was to catch the Overground to Hampstead Heath, where I would watch the sunrise over our bookshop’s window displays each morning, and then the sunset during my lunchbreak each afternoon. The bookshop was my haven, as bookshops are.

At Daunt Books, we would keep the doors open, even when it threatened to snow.

So it breaks my heart to see so many bookshops with their doors shuttered in the happiest and most essential trading month of the year.

Christmas trade makes up more than a quarter of a bookshop’s yearly profits and Christmas sustains a bookshop through its quieter months of trade selling products that are already on a small margin. Nothing seems scarier to me than Amazon’s prowess in this time.

Click and collect is hard.

Bookshops are such analogue spaces. How do you fight the online retailers when you barely have a website, definitely not a live inventory? Everyone who has worked in a bookshop knows that hardback that came out three years ago that you’re meant to have in stock—of course it’s out of print, isn’t there. The mystique of discovering something meant just for you, tucked away in a dusty corner can’t be replaced with keywords.

You don’t become a bookseller just to fulfil online and phone orders. A bookshop without customers begins feel like a warehouse. But behind every online order is a grandparent reading bedtime stories over Zoom. It’s two friends drinking wine at book club. It’s someone’s self-care, their promise to themselves to spend less time on their phone/laptop/in the spin cycle of bad news.

Every time you handwrite ‘thinking of you xxx’ in a card to a customer’s friend or family, know that they’re also thinking of us. Independent bookshops that people want to exist in the future.

Reading may be an act of solitude, but buying books is an act of community.

During lockdown, a regular customer called the Avenue and told me she had moved to Melbourne’s CBD at the beginning of the year ‘to be in the heart of it’. Now she lives alone in a high-rise apartment building with abandoned streets below. We gossiped about the new Ferrante novel and she told me this was the closest thing to the European lifestyle she had moved for that she had experienced all year.

In your sales trends, you can see the hope for the future post-lockdown. We’ve sold so many copies of Sand Talk, Dark Emu, Welcome to Country, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Every time a copy of Rebel Girls leaves the shop gift-wrapped, I know we’re galvanising little ones for the future.

People are reading beyond the bestseller list. This year, reading books has been an act of self-care, it has been an act of rebellion.

And people are reading.

A librarian friend of mine told me that at one point, eighty percent of their library’s collection was ‘out’ with borrowers during lockdown. The library had had to buy more books to keep up with demand.

When I was feeling dejected during lockdown, I too, would read to escape. I read Monkey Grip for the first time to imagine I was still living in Melbourne and riding my bike through the inner suburbs. I read At the Pond (again) to reminisce about swimming in the Hampstead Ladies’ Ponds I’d left behind.

Here in Melbourne, we’ve just opened the doors to customers for the first time since July. I’ve never felt more appreciated as a bookseller in my life. The gratitude for all the hard work from my colleagues in lockdown didn’t go unappreciated, we just never heard about it.

Every day back has been humbling and joyous. Now the cry of I’m so glad you’re still here! is as ubiquitous as I love the smell of books.

It may not feel like Christmas where you are, but I hope you can feel a little sparkle of Christmas spirit in the details of your orders that makes being a bookseller such a joy.

Keep your tables pyramided, I promise your doors will open again.

With love from a bookseller in Melbourne,

Emily Westmoreland is a bookseller at the Avenue Bookstore, previously Daunt Books, London. She helps coordinate the prize for short fiction at Desperate Literature, Madrid and is the publisher at PENinsula.


Category: Features